Budding First Nations entrepreneurs harness business skills in youth camp

As most students hotly anticipate the welcome reprieve of the weekend this Friday afternoon, certain Musqueam, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Tsleil-Waututh Nation youths will be preparing to exercise their brains further in a business-focused youth camp.

Travelling program Bear’s Lair Youth Dream Camps, due to set up shop at the Chief Joe Mathias Centre in West Vancouver, gives Indigenous youth between the ages of 11 and 17 a taste of life as an entrepreneur.

The three-day event meanders through all steps of creating a business, from the early stages of concept inception, name giving and determining a target audience, to the later tasks like creating a marketing strategy and managing the costs.

“It’s really inspiring, because a lot of the youth involved don’t know much about business until they get into this,” said Tsetasiya (Geena Jackson), leader of the project.

“It teaches how business works in today’s world, how to market and how to have a real appreciation for our economy and economics through creating economies within our own communities – either on a grassroots level or on a regional, national or global level.”

The initiative spawned from Jackson’s 2022 TV show Bear’s Lair, a Dragons Den and Shark Tank-esque business pitching program but with Indigenous judges, and Indigenous contestants from all across the country.

Jackson, from the shíshálh Nation, worked with the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) in various business development roles for over a decade prior, and had long wanted to make members of the wider communities, young and old, aware that such business-focused opportunities were available to them, too.

Unlike the dog-eat-dog world of business-focused reality TV, Jackson said her show is built around a “kind, uplifting” environment, and the youth programs, which have already taken residence in Ontario, Vancouver Island and Fraser Valley, are made in the same vein.

The youth camps also culminate in a pitching session, where students talk through the making of their business concept via five minute, pre-filmed video slots. On the fourth day a graduation ceremony welcomes family and friends to view the students’ presentations, an event which often leaves parents “beaming,” said Jackson.

“The leadership is proud, and the children are so proud of what they have accomplished.”

More than just new-found business acumen, students come away with bolstered skills in areas like public speaking, team building and the ability to take on constructive criticism, she said. And should the new generation of Jim Pattisons want to venture further into the business world following their camp experience, Jackson assures there is much in the way of aftercare and support to ensure they can do so properly.

“We are always available for contact, we’re going to be having reunions with the graduates of the class, and really following them in their journeys.”

Jackson hopes the next time she brings the program to West Vancouver the students will be at a stage where they can take on the role of facilitator or mentor for the next generation.

“These youth are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, whether they run for leadership and counsel, whether they go into a business administration program for post secondary, or whether they choose to become an entrepreneur on their own territory,” she said.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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Mina Kerr-Lazenby, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News